As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the program EZDrummer. I’ve used it many a time when I needed drums quickly and didn’t have the time or the budget to hire a drummer.

There are plenty of great (and more advanced) drum programming options out there, but EZDrummer was the first one I used, and it worked for what I needed, so I kept using it.

While I think Toontrack is a great company, they’ve been releasing more “EZ” products over the years, one of them is called EZMix. On the product page for EZMix, it says, “Making professional mixes has never been easier!”

Then they just released an expansion pack for it called “Mastering EZMix Pack.” According to their website, with this plugin you can “Start mastering – it’s EZ!”

I’ve never used these products, and perhaps they sound fantastic and are really useful.

However, I gotta call a spade a spade.

None of the stuff we do in the studio is “easy.” If it was easy, everybody would be putting out professional-sounding mixes.

Is it possible to get great-sounding mixes in your homes studio? Absolutely.

Easy? I don’t think so.

At least for me, I’ve had to work a lot of hours to get my mixing and mastering skills to where they are today, and I hope I’m 10 times better in the next 10 years.

It’s an art, not a science, and it simply takes TIME.

That reminds me of an email I got last week from a customer. He was mastering an album he had just finished mixing, and was using a “CD mastering” preset on his mastering plugin. He said it sounded good, but also thought it was over-compressed. “What more should I do?” he asked.

Here was my response:

“The main red flag that I see is that you used a ‘CD mastering’ preset. I almost never use presets, especially for mastering. That might be why you think you got it a bit too compressed.

I try to use a limiter in such a way that it’s only doing small bits of gain reduction on the loudest peaks, then I use compression (usually multi-band compression, but regular compression can work, too) to add any additional loudness IF the track needs it.

Unfortunately there’s not really a formula. You’ll need to do some listening and comparing. I would err on the side of under-compressed rather than over-compressed if I was you.

Hope that helps!”

The problem is simple. Presets don’t have ears.

They can’t listen to the music and make adjustments based on what they HEAR.

You can. (1 point for the humans!)

I’m not knocking presets entirely, but at best they’re only starting points, a springboard to get you moving in the right direction. Use them, but know that you should be listening and changing settings to fit the music.

Besides, if you could really mix or master a song using all presets, where would the satisfaction be?

If I mastered a song using ONLY presets, I would feel like I couldn’t even take a mastering credit on it, because all the creative decisions were made FOR me by the plugins.

And since mastering is the ever-so-crucial final step of the recording process, of course I take time to cover it in-depth during the final weeks of the Production Club material, which you can join right here to get started:

Joe Gilder